|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.22(w) x 8.04(h) x 0.56(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
American brio confronts European sophistication—and diverse cultures collide with surprising results—in brilliant, sometimes outrageous stories of seduction and self-discovery by acclaimed New Yorker writer Andrea Lee.
In vivid prose shot through with mordant irony, Lee takes us into the hearts and minds of a number of extraordinary women—intelligent, seductive, self-possessed—who, with wit and style, must grapple with questions of identity in a shrinking world where everyone is, in some way, a foreigner.
In “The Birthday Present,” a loyal and conventional American wife explores the wilder shores of marital devotion by giving her Italian husband a costly present: a night with a high-class Milanese call girl. “Winter Barley” is the account, alternately lyrical and perverse, of the brief love affair in Scotland between an elderly European prince and a thoroughly modern New England beauty half his age. And in the collection’s title story, “Interesting Women,” an American woman on vacation in Thailand reflects with mocking detachment on the confessional relationships that spring up between women (“another day, another soul laid bare”), before falling into one herself, which culminates in a hilarious and absurd odyssey through the jungle.
Lee’s beautifully crafted stories, reminiscent of Colette’s, offer the reader a rare combination: sensual evocation of the moment, and profound insight into the underlying struggles—of gender, race, and class—that shape relationships worldwide.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The writing of Andrea Lee brings to mind a famous aphorism about F. Scott Fitzgerald which, roughly paraphrased, declares: What a pity that such beautiful prose is wasted on such transcendently vacuous and boring subjects. In Ms. Lee's case, I would take this a step further; her narrow and curious obsession with sexual mythology - especally the mutual exploitation of sexual myth across racal lines - has been flogged past death in the slim body of her work, leaving the discerning reader hoping that this hugely talented writer might push her boundaries beyond the insipid and tiresome wish-fantasy of African-American 'ladies who lunch' in exotic climes with wealthy, often titled, European men. This dynamic - the quivering dusky maiden and the bold European 'gentleman adventurer' (her words) - has been acted out since contact was first made eons ago. What, after all, is there left to say? What, indeed, was there to say in the first instance? It is an old story. In Ms. Lee's latest offering, 'Interesting Women', a collection of short stories, an ersatz quality links her subjects, a distinctly second-hand vision that walks hard along the neck of puerility - the kinds of fanciful notions that might be dreamed up by a Seven Sisters girl heading into a junior year abroad, visions dancing in her head of leviathan yachts plying the blue Mediterranean, peopled with European princes, counts and captains of industry. In sum, Lee's 'interesting women' are anything but, inasmuch as they are overdrawn - and overworked - caricatures. Emotional detachment is the thread of commonality that runs through all of her stories, leading the reader to surmise that if she truly knew and understood her subjects, the aura of inauthenticity would not hang over her work. 'Ladies Who Lunch' - Stephen Sondheim's 1970 composition - pokes good-natured fun at the ladies themselves, the kinds of ladies who populate 'Interesting Women'. But these globe-trotting, glamour-seeking, hedonistic characters, who could have been lifted directly from Town & Country magazine and painted a darker hue - and, clearly, the author herself - do not realize that time has passed for them, that they were never in on the joke, and that they have become its collective comic butt. And in this inevitable tansformation, they develop into fodder for the cruelest mockery. The joke is now on them because they are ex-babes, the oldest and safest and easiest targets for ridicule in the world, nearly impossible to resist when one is feeling particularly spiteful. Why would they provoke such naked contempt? Because this coven of pampered ciphers have lived their entire adult lives in a toxic atmosphere of malignant discourse - these 'cats 'o nine tongues' and 'fleurs du mal' - a world of haute couture, servants, lugubrious charity balls and dinners, opulent spas, breakfasts in bed, vicious and gratuitous gossip. In their frivolous world the women are perpetually at play, spitting darts of venom and engaging in the most insidious character annihilation, inflicting upon others the vast, yawning emptiness they feel in themselves, and making those others pay for the soul-deadening, ego-destructive lifestyle into which these women have sold themselves. In short, people of genuine substance have neither time for nor interest in them because they are so trivial and limited. They are important only to each other in a hermetically-sealed little world of utter inconsequence, and they are most assuredly not worth the effort Ms. Lee invests in them. Who cares? Andrea Lee certainly has the ability to deliver the goods; now if only she could find a real center of gravity in her work, one worthy of her considerable talent. Her beautiful, textured, evocative prose is in a class by itself. Unfortunately, the conceit of simply putting ladies-who-lunch in blackface and plopping them down in chic international venues wears quite thin and, thus far, marks Ms. Lee as a literary one-trick pony.
This book was just great, great, great. The characters were very feel, the stories fullfilled your need for fantasy with a lot of reality in between.